「怪獣使いって、なに？」 (Kaijuu tsukai tte, nani?)
“What’s a Kaiju User?”
There are basically two strains of fan love expressed in the Gridman anime universe. We have the Ultraman tokusatsu franchise created in the 60’s by Tsuburaya Productions, and the anime of Gainax (especially the 90’s and early 2000’s). Even after SSSS.Gridman I’m a neophyte when it comes to the former, but nothing in years arouses the Gainax fanboy in me like the Gridman franchise. It’s such a treat to hop in the time capsule and go for a ride. Director Amemiya Akira is interestingly placed in this sense – he’s a veteran of those Gainax anime (along with much of the staff), and himself a fanboy of the Ultraman universe.
I loved the premiere of SSSS.Dynazenon, which for me captured the same charm that SSSS.Gridman did. As someone who lived through that anime era and is basically a fan today because of it, the key is that there’s such an authenticity to the work of Amemiya-sensei and his team. Gainax has been copied for years (not least by other Trigger series, unsurprisingly) but almost never with the sort of uncanny accuracy of Gridman and Dynazenon. These aren’t copies, because they don’t have to be – Amemiya and his core staff (especially Animation Director Nakamura Mayumi) just get it. It’s in their DNA.
Because Gridman basically established the boundaries of the mythology Amemiya and writer Hasegawa Keiichi have created, Dynazenon is free to dive into the action considerably earlier in the narrative. That said, Amemiya wisely takes the opportunity to establish the characters and their own non-fantastical universes. This is something he’s exceptionally good at, and probably the most Ganiax-y part of the series, and because the actual events are so closely tied in with the adolescent psyche of the cast probably the most crucial part of the narrative. He goes about it in his usual fashion – no BGM, minimalist direction, stupendous backgrounds. It just works.
We’ll see how everyone fits together, but for now it seems Asanaka Yomogi (Enoki Junya) is more or less filling the Yuuta role. He’s an excellent protagonist, an everyboy type with a good heart and normal problems. He works part-time (with a sempai co-worker who may be a shotacon), lives with a single mom (when what may be her boyfriend gives him a cash gift for entering high school, Yomogi surreptitiously slips it into the donation box), and appears to have friends even if he’s too shy to have a girlfriend yet. Yomogi is instantly likeable, as Yuuta was, which is a critical trait for this role in the story.
Minami Yume (Wakayama Shion) – “dream” as a given name, hmmm – may be more or less the Akane “dream into action” (there’s an 80’s reference for you) figure. Temperamentally she comes across as a bit of a mix of Akane (whose dream world this may be) and Rikka. Her older sister Kano has apparently committed suicide after bullying, and she’s a bit of a mess. She has an addition to promise-breaking – she can’t stop making arrangements to meet boys and standing them up (including Yomogi in the premiere). Their relationship seems destined to form the core of the character side of the story.
The kaiju side kicks into gear after Yomogi has a chance encounter with Gauma (Hamano Daiki) collapsed under a bridge. I love how Yomogi desperately looks around to see whether there’s anyone else who could get involved instead of him, then resignedly intervenes. This earns him the gratitude of Gauma, who un-self-consciously introduces himself as a “kaiju user” and proves harder to shake than a summer cold. Yomogi’s pure cinnamon roll persona and Gauma’s ragged wildman make a fun contrast, and there’s a nice odd couple chemistry here right off the bat.
Eventually of course this is going to lead to piloting a giant robot, but this one – Dynazenon – apparently requires four pilots. The fourth will be Yamanaka Koyomi (Umehara Yuichirou), a slacker and possible NEET (if he’s old enough) who lives with his younger cousin Asukagawa Chise (Anzai Chika), who likewise doesn’t attend school. His meeting with the others appears to be random, as Dynazenon scoops him up after a kaiju attack on the town prompts Gauma to start up the big guy. We don’t get as much background with these two as the main trio so personality-wise they’re pretty surface level so far, but they both seem entertaining enough. I’m sure they’ll get fleshed out in the coming weeks.
If you enjoyed Gridman, I can’t see anything here that wouldn’t click – the vibe of the piece is pretty much identical. There are some great comic moments (like Yomogi saying “Should I be doing something?” as Dynazenon gets its butt kicked by the kaiju), iconic battle sequences complete with insert music (and almost no CGI), and some glimpses into the pain of adolescence. This is just anime, dammit – and I love that about it. We even get a decoder ring for “SSSS” at last – “Scarred Souls Shine like Stars”. It fits the mecha motif to a “T”, and do does SSSS.Dynazenon.
ED: 「Strobe Memory」 (ストロボメモリー) by Maaya Uchida (内田真礼)